The Empress and the Fat Guy...

author : scuba-punk
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He looked at us and flat out told us that he wouldn't accept any of us as his students at a technical diving level with the poor level of physical fitness we had.

I must be more in tune with the Earth than I realize, because April seems to be a time of rebirth for me as well.  In April of 1996, I changed my name and became the person that I've always been called.  It changed how I felt about myself and whom I portrayed to the rest of the world.  In April of 2004, I began a journey to change the rest of me - mind, body and soul.  The following is my reflection on the past 6 months - the first 6 months of my new life.

As you can tell by my screen name "scuba-punk," I enjoy scuba diving.  So much so, that I am proud to say that I am possessed by it.  I love the quietness of immersion.  I take pride in knowing that not only have I seen some amazing life forms in their natural habitats, but that I am in the minority of people on this planet that will ever do so.  So what does this have to do with Triathlons?  One word...Shipwrecks.  Still not following me?  That's OK let me explain. 

In order to visit some of the shipwrecks that I would consider paramount, I need to get some more advanced training.  In order to start that training, I need a much higher level of fitness for a number of reasons.  These reasons influence not only the amount of enjoyment one gets from the dives, but whether or not the diver can mortally survive them.  I'm not kidding.  Poor fitness can lead to panic and panic is really bad underwater.  Fitness levels also play an important role in decompression.  A diver with high levels of fitness stands a better chance of decompressing more completely than a diver with poor cardiovascular health.  So you ask again, what the heck does of any of this have to do with triathlons?  Everything!  Read on...

At the end of March this year, I went to a scuba diving trade show in New Jersey. I had set up a diving skills class in July for some friends and myself and the instructor that we had chosen to take the class with, Bob Sherwood, was at the show helping out at one of the equipment vendor booths.  We had a really good chat with him.  About halfway through the conversation, we started talking about what level we wanted to dive at.  When we told Bob that we wanted to pursue more advanced diving (caves, deeper wrecks, mixed gases, etc.), he looked at us and flat out told us that he wouldn't accept any of us as his students at a technical diving level with the poor level of physical fitness we had.  I was crushed!  "I'm in good shape," I thought to myself.  "Round is a fine shape."  Who the heck is this guy and why should I listen to him anyway?  I was ticked off, but being the curious sort I continued to listen to what he had to say.  I was exceedingly glad that I did.  We proceeded to talk about fitness and eating properly for fitness and he suggested that we look into the Body-for-Life book by Bill Phillips. 

The following week, Wifey and I got the book, read it and realized what a great, simple, sustainable plan it is.  On Monday, April 5th, 2004 I was 'born again.'  We went through the whole 12 week program together and were amazed at how truly simple it was to eat properly and exercise efficiently without overdoing it or injuring ourselves.  That book has made its way around my circle of diving buddies and half of my family.  After the initial 12-week program, I was planning on doing another 12-week commitment.  But from somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered reading an article a couple years ago about Shawn Colvin (the singer) and how she had completed a triathlon (see, I told you this story had triathlons in it somewhere).  I remember reading that article and saying to myself that she had to be insane to do an Ironman, until I turned the page and saw that it was a 'sprint' distance triathlon.  I remember asking no one in particular, "You mean there are shorter triathlons?" 

As I remembered that article, I looked on the Internet and found a sprint distance tri that was about 13 weeks away.  I figured if I was going to do all of this exercising, why not give myself a "goal?"  I signed up, paid my fee, clicked 'Yessiree-Bob' and immediately began to sweat profusely - I was still 80 pounds overweight...  "WHAT THE HECK HAVE I DONE????????" I asked myself.  "You're setting a realistic goal for yourself, you goober!" was the response that I gave.  Somehow convinced by that, I started looking all over the Internet for whatever information I could find. 

As luck would have it, my wife works with some long distance endurance athletes (one did IM Lake Placid this summer and another just did a 100 mile Ultra-Marathon in Canada) and I got more information than I knew what to do with.  My wife ordered a copy of Gale Bernhardt's "Training Plans for Multisport Athletes" for me and armed with her 12-week "sprint distance triathlon training plan for mentally-unstable-couch-potatoes-who-think-that-they-want-to-be-athletes" program, I began to put forth the effort that I hoped would take me across the finish line.

So I guess that brings us to race day, doesn't it?  Well, it was an incredible experience.  With the exception of the first 100 feet or so of the swim where I took off like a maniac and had absolutely no form, I settled into the paces that I had been practicing for months.  I had a PR on the swim, came out better than expected in T1, left part of my right lung at the top of a hill on the bike course, performed a tolerable T2 and got passed by everyone but two people on the run.  Yep, you go it.  I didn't come in last and I finished in less than 2:30:00 to boot.  The sun was out, the air temp was cool and refreshing, the water was calm and warm.  I couldn't have asked for a better day (well, the head wind on the bike was unnecessary, but I don't want to be a whiner).  I even stopped to smell some flowers about a quarter of a mile before the end of the run.  When I crested the hill, I could see the clock and it read 2:20-something!  "Super-sweet, I'm going to finish ahead of my planned time!"  The sound of the timing chip chirping as I crossed the finish line sounded sweeter than a songbird on a spring morning.  No longer was I was lumpy couch potato, I was a triathlete (still lumpy, but that's OK).  I was beaming!

Looking back at the title of this article, you may be wondering...  "OK, I get the Fat Guy part, but who's the Empress?"  The empress that I am referring to is THE Empress - the Empress of Ireland.  She's an ocean liner that sank in 14 minutes in the St. Lawrence River in 1914 with a loss of life that rivals that of the Titanic.  She lies on her right side in 140 feet of ice-cold, fast moving water - not a dive for the faint of heart...or out of shape.  That, my dear readers, is one of those paramount dives that I mentioned earlier.  She is one of the many reasons that I got off my La-Z-Boy and started my long journey of better fitness, better health and a better life overall.

Well, it's been a heck of a journey so far.  I've lost some fat, I've gained some muscle, my wife says that I've become more pleasant to deal with (must be that runner's high thing everyone goes on about), my underwater air consumption rivals that of small children, I've accidentally inspired someone on the other side of the county to start working out again and riding his bike, I've encouraged friends and family to donate almost $900 to the Lupus Alliance of America to help my sister-in-law and I've met a bunch of crazy people here on BT - a heck of a trip indeed.

I can't wait to see what next year brings!
-Frank (scuba-punk)


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date: October 3, 2004


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